While playing a round of Heads Up! last week, we got a particularly hard word right before the buzzer sounded and I exclaimed, “Ho ho!” to which one of our funniest friends replied, “Did Santa Clause just walk in here or something?”
Seemingly overnight French interjections had crept into my brain and overwrote all the English ones. Gone are the woo hoo’s and ah ha’s, which have now been replaced by the youpi’s and ho ho’s. Maybe I’m getting closer to 80% or 90% French?
Since they are kind of funny and pop up regularly in French conversation, I thought a list of ten expressive French words and how they are used may be useful for other Francophiles and aspiring Francophones.
Aïe: Similar to how we’d use “ouch” to express pain or worry. Pronounced like the letter “i”.
Bof: Equivalent of hmmph or meh that usually proceeds a sentence where you either don’t know, don’t care, or are indifferent. Pronounced like bo-fff.
Chut: Shush or shhh. A way to quiet someone down or try to shut them up. Pronounced like shhh-uu-t, but keep in mind the “uu” is very quick and brief.
Eh: Instead of uh or um, the French say eh. Fun fact: Spanish speakers also use eh in the same way. Pronounced like the “ey” in hey.
Oh là là: In English, we use this word to express how someone or something is stylish, however the French typically use it as a surprise reaction to something positive or negative. The “oh” is sometimes pronounced like ooo or oh while là là is pronounced simply as la la.
Ouf: Used the way English speakers would say whew or phew. It’s pronounced somewhere between uf and oof.
Oups: Easily translated as oops. More or less said the same way we say oops in English.
Ho ho: The French ha ha. Sometimes it’s said as “oh ho ho”, which is even more like something Santa Clause would say. Pronounced exactly how it looks.
Hop là: This word is used in so many ways that it doesn’t have a clear English equivalent. Sometimes it’s used to accentuate movement like when you pick up a little kid and say alley oops or when you reach for something that is very high. It could also be used the way we say here we go, there we go, or that’s the end. Pronounced like ope-la.
Youpi: Equivalent of yippee or woo hoo. Pronounced like you-pee. You pee, get it! #mindofafifthgrader